After decades in the music business, Willie Nile defintiely seems to be hitting his stride. While other artists of a similar age might find themselves slowing down, Nile is still going strong - perhaps stronger than ever before. On April 1st, the rocker released his latest album, World War Willie, to accolades from critics and fans alike. Shortly after the album's release, Nile graciously took the time to talk about World War Willie, the support of his fans and living out his dreams come true.
World War Willie was successfully funded via a Pledge campaign. Using that platform to make a record really speaks to the fan base.
It really does you know. We did a Pledge campaign for this record and for American Ride and what’s amazing to me is how strong the support for the album was. Within the first twenty-four hours we reached our goal - actually, we reached our goal within the first eight hours, and at the end of the campaign, we raised 300%, which was very heartening. When I got the phone call that we had reached the goal in eight hours, I was very quiet. I was very touched because my friends and fans went above and beyond. You can make records all kinds of ways, but if you want to do it right, it does get expensive because you not only make it, but manufacture it, and then need press and radio promotion which all cost money. The fans stepped up and allowed me to do it. They’re the backbone of the record.
If the records weren’t any good, I’d expect support to soften, but support has never been stronger; people seem to be digging the records. The music is resonating with the audience and it’s resonating at the live shows because people know I mean what I do. They know I am not here to be the next American Idol. They know I write because it means something to me and I care about it. We did a show Saturday night at the Stone Pony and we packed the place. When I walked on stage the response people gave me, I almost had tears in my eyes it was so moving.
That must have been an incredible feeling.
These days most people don’t do the same thing for ten years, much less forty, so where does your passion and drive come from?
Why do I do this and where does it come from? Who knows. I love music. It’s always meant the world to me from the time I bought my first single, Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue,” til today. It helps me understand and make sense of the world, whether it’s about love or loss or ripping a place on a Saturday night.
I like to write about things that matter to me, to bring people together and to put out good vibes because, my God, there is so much negativity out there in the world. Music inspires me and if it inspires others then that’s very meaningful to me. Compassion, kindness and social issues, like female empowerment, all mean something to me. The song “Runaway Girl” I wrote to show respect to women and to let them know someone cares about and believes in them. Last year, at the end of August, I went to D.C. where the Voice of America honored Malala, the eighteen-year-old Pakistani woman who was shot in the head some years ago. They asked to use my song, “This is Our Time” as the theme song for the evening. When I walked into the Newseum where it was held, I saw signs honoring her using lines from the song: Malala our time, our moment, our place in the human race. She spoke about empowering women and it was a beautiful, meaningful experience.
You have quite a few uplifting songs on the record. It’s a really nice balance of the serious, out and out rockers, and ballads. Plus, there’s also a lot of humor in there that we don’t see too often in music.
I love that about this one; it’s so playful and so self-effacing. I take the music seriously, but I try not to take myself too seriously. I mean “Citibank Nile” is about some real jerk of a rich kid and I put myself in those shoes because it worked. I love when music can be uplifting and lighthearted, like “Grandpa Rocks.” I’m a grandfather and yet I put that song in a real Clash context. It’s a real rocker, but it’s true for me. I have four grandkids whom I adore and yet I can still play for two hours and blow the roof off of a place. It’s fun.
The album kicks off with a song “Forever Wild”, that seems like it is ripe to blow the roof off of a venue. Is that song autobiographical and was it intentional to place it first?
Yes, to both of those. I think that everyone has dreams and hopes when they’re younger and more often than not, those fall to the wayside. "Forever Wild" is this celebratory, fist in the air song to keep some of those dreams alive because it’s still worth it. It’s a spirited, fun rocker that’s really fun to play. I put it first on purpose because I thought musically it was a great way to open the album and also a kind of a statement about being alive and embracing that. Look, life is full of really difficult, horrible things, but when I’m here I want to be able to taste it and feel it and live it and breathe it.
The first time we opened the show with that song, people were going nuts. I looked up and saw the whole room singing along and just thought "Wow." The song’s a blast of fresh air, hope, dreams, and resilience.
You wrote almost half of the album’s songs solo. Do you prefer to write independently or do you keep it varied?
I write whatever comes to me. I wrote some songs with Frankie Lee and others with Jefferson Grizzard. It’s not planned how many go on there that I wrote myself; I just want to make the best record I can make. I do usually have a few key songs that I know I want on there like, “Forever Wild,” and “World War Willie” and “Trouble Down In Diamond Town.” “Let's All Come Together” I knew would be the core of album; “Citibank Nile” I wrote few weeks before we recorded the album, but in this case the songs are mostly new ones. I have drawers full of songs and when I put a collection together I like that they cover some set bases and work together musically and thematically. I’m not going to put out 11-12 broken hearted songs out; I like to have fun with it with variety and humor.
You mentioned, “Trouble Down in Diamond Town.” Is there a story behind that song as it really plays out very much like a movie when you listen.
We were thinking about a movie when wrote it. The story got started with those lyrics, “She was a high school princess who got married in the grade school gym” which were like a seed and the song just took off from there. There’s a definite cinematic feel to it and musically with the band, it came to life.
How did you decide upon the album cover and using “World War Willie” as the title?
I knew early on that World War Willie would be the title...it just felt right. There's alot of personal and autobiographical stuff on the album and the alliteration of that song in my poetic brain made me laugh.
I was on a club tour in Italy, outside Verona, and there was that photo of Dresden, when over 1000 planes bombed the hell out of it in World War II, on a wall of the club. When the show was over, we took some pictures in front of it thinking maybe there would be a cover in there somewhere. I really like the contrast of rock and roll and a guitar and the devastation in the background. It reminds me of CBGB in the old days; it’s me using rock and roll to try to wrap my head around this world and fighting back with one guitar against this world of chaos.
There’s also a story behind that guitar on the cover. I did six shows in Italy with an Italian blues guitar friend of mine. He offered me his acoustic for the tour so I didn’t have to bring mine over. When he lent it to me, it was brand new, untouched and then after five shows that’s what happened to it, I shredded it to the point where there’s almost a hole in the lower part of it. I felt so bad. I said, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry Marco,” but he says “No, no, no, it’s more valuable now and it’s more rocking.” Thank God because I felt so terrible, but he loved it.
That’s a great story! You gave the guitar a lot of love.
You have been playing out supporting the record a bit already, will you continue to tour through the summer?
This past month we were in Boston, Albany, Philly and the Stone Pony show. We have a big show in Buffalo and at City Winery in NYC and parts beyond including Europe in September. We’ll do what we can do to get the word out. It’s a different climate in the music business, but I do it because I care about the music. I’m so happy with how this record came out and am really fortunate that it seems to be resonating. The music is meaningful to me. If it didn’t mean something to me I wouldn’t waste my time or anybody else’s. I wouldn’t walk out on one single stage if it didn’t bring magic and excitement. Most people my age have bagged it, are bagging it or aren’t putting out their best stuff. In my case, I’m not sure why, but it seems to be backward. I think I’m writing some of my best stuff and certainly enjoying it a lot more, that’s for sure. I’m very mindful of how fortunate I am to be able to make a living doing something that I love. I’m very grateful. My fans are great, the band is great and I have a great batch of songs to play. These are my glory days, no doubt it.
Finally, I don’t know if you’re a bucket list type of person, but if you are, is there anything you would like to accomplish?
Last year was a pretty big one. I got to play with The Who, whom I toured with in 1980. I stayed in touch with Pete and Roger and when Music Cares was honoring Pete’s work with addiction they called and asked me to play with them. I played “The Kids Are Alright” and for the encore got to sing “Won't Get Fooled Again” with them, Bruce and Billy Idol. That’s a mountain I sure won’t come down from! Bruce also sang "One Guitar" with us at a Parkinson's event at the Stone Pony like he’s done numerous times. And, I’ve been blessed to do things like the Malala event. I’m thanking my lucky stars and taking it one step at a time. The whole thing has been a bucket list of a lot of dreams come true.
For tour dates and more information visit his official website
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